Wednesday, July 31, 2013

July 1- New York Yankees



If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m a huge fan of talking about the stories from a team’s past that don’t quite get remembered except in passing moments and at the countertop during a bar room discussion by the most avid of baseball fans and historians. In the case of the New York Yankees, most long-lasting tales focus heavily upon the dominant teams featuring yesteryear’s stars like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Roger Maris and Whitey Ford all the way up through the 1970s with Thurman Munson, Chris Chambliss and Reggie Jackson and on into the 1990s and 2000s with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams and Paul O’Neill. These are the teams of our grandfathers, fathers, brothers, sisters, mothers and extended relatives that we all laugh and smile about. But like any fairy tale story, there is always that moment of struggle and conflict that we can’t look beyond.

Unlike most of my other posts I have elected to start with a bit of history about the cap first so that I can wind up and lead into the heart of the story. Despite what most of you have seen through film and photos of the last 80 years or so on Yankees baseball, the team has actually gone through a surprising number of uniform and logo changes in their 113-year history. So far I’ve touched on one of the former caps that the Yankees reintroduced in 2012 in my post from February 9th when they were still known as the Highlanders. It wouldn’t be until 1913 that the team would officially become the Yankees and begin play with the navy blue cap with the white “NY” logo that we’ve all become familiar with. Over the years the “NY” went through a few style modifications (all of which I’ll detail with individual posts) until they finally settled down on this particular style in 1992, right around the time that this scrappy no-namer was taken with the sixth overall pick in that year’s amateur draft.  

Now, some of you might be saying, “Hey Benjamin! Are you high? The Yankees have been using the same logo since the 1960s at least.” My response to that is, “WRONG!!!” It’s very close, and I used to think the same thing; however, years of baseball card collecting and a vested interest in authentic baseball caps has certainly made me the wiser man in this category. If you look closely in the Jeter photo above you’ll notice that the tips on the “N” and the “Y” curve up and outward and are almost sanded down to a fine 45 degree edge. Here’s a closer look.

Now, if you take a look at the logo on the cap used through the 1991 season, you’ll see that the tips of the “N” and the “Y” shoot out at the tips a little bit more, plus the shape of the “N” has a bit more of an off-kilter curve to it, making the “Y” appear to be a little bit tighter in closeness to the left arm of the “N.” 

I know this all sounds crazy, but it’s true. The main reason I bring all of this up is because at some point in time down the road when I write about the fraternal doppelganger of this cap, I don’t want any of you to think I’m cheating you by writing about the exact same cap. Even weirder, now that I have time stamped this cap that I’m wearing as a 1992-present cap, I’m now about to spin you a story or two from Yankees’ history from the era of the second cap. Yes, I realize none of this makes sense as I try to stay within the era of the cap and its use. The only problem is that I am saving an even better story for the second cap for October, and since this one straddles the end date of the second cap, I figure what the hell? Almost all of us witnessed the Yankees of the 1990s and 2000s so there’s really no sense in dragging anyone down that road again. Nothing personal against the Yankees or their fans; I just feel that there’s no sense in trying to rehash upon what so many others have all ready talked about for the last decade. That would be kind of like going out an making a film about World War II, hoping that your interpretation was somehow better than the dozens that have come before it. Once again, as well all should know by now, Quentin Tarantino pretty much put that baby to bed.

7/1/90: On the morning of July 1, 1990 the Yankees found themselves dead last (seventh place) in the American League Eastern Division with a record of 28-44. The Yankees had been in that position since May 26th after a loss to the Kansas City Royals by the score of 4-9. Then-manager Bucky Dent, who I’ll be writing about down the road, was relieved of his managerial duties on June 5th and replaced by Stump Merrill for the remainder of the season. Even with Merrill at the helm, the Yankees struggled to register a number in the win column despite the level of talent on the team which included Don Mattingly, Steve Balboni, Steve Sax, Jesse Barfield and a fresh-faced rookie by the name of Jim Leyritz. Andy Hawkins was on the mound for the Yankees that sunny afternoon in Chicago along with his 1-4 record in 13 starts on the season. Hawkins’s win came on May 6th against the California Angels, but it was up to him to do battle against the White Sox in old Comiskey Park this day.

Through the first four innings Hawkins and White Sox pitcher Greg Hibbard had themselves a little bit of a pitchers’ duel at hand. Each had 12 batters come to the plate, and in each case both men sent the batters back to the dugout with their tail between their legs. In the top of the fifth inning Hibbard continued his pace, getting Balboni, Barfield and Leyritz out consecutively. Now, it was time to switch sides. Hawkins made short work of both Dan Pasqua and Ron Kittle with a flyout and popout respectively; however, he walked catcher Ron Karkovice after running him up to a full count. Hawkins then had a passed ball get by against second baseman Scott Fletcher, allowing Karkovice advance to second base. Hawkins then proceeded to walk Fletcher before getting Sammy Sosa to flyout to left field.

Hibbard’s perfect game was broken up by Yankees catcher and former-Oakland Athletics skipper Bob Geren in the top of the sixth inning with one out on a single to third baseman and current White Sox manager Robin Ventura. Hibbard would go seven innings and only allow four hits while striking out four throughout the game. As for Hawkins, his day was just getting started. Hawkins got through the sixth on three straight batters, but once again allowed a walk in the top of the seventh inning to designated hitter Ivan Calderon. Hawkins then took down Pasqua again, Calderon got caught stealing by Geren and Kittle went down watching the strikes go by.

If you couldn’t tell by now, the Yankees offense was pretty much non-existent. Hawkins was a lone-man on the mound with a no-hitter in tact through seven innings. In the eight, the wheels came off. Actually, that’s a poor analogy. It’s more like, the wheels came off, rolled down the street along with the car and somehow found themselves back on the hubs. Karkovice and Fletcher both succumbed to popflys to second baseman Sax, but on the next play third baseman Mike Blowers botched a routine ground ball hit by Sosa which allowed a baserunner via error on behalf of Blowers. Sosa then stole second as Ozzie Guillen was in the process of walking, which ultimately led to Lance Johnson receiving a free pass to first base himself, thus loading the bases with two outs for Ventura. At this point I should probably remind you that Hawkins’s no-hitter was still in tact. On the first pitch from Hawkins, Ventura swung for the fences but got under it, sending a deep fly ball to an eagerly awaiting Leyritz out in left field. On most days, this play would have been routine, but on a day like today with a non-no in tact and the wind blowing like crazy in the outfield, Leyritz made a rookie mistake and lost the ball at the last second as it careened off of his glove and onto the grass, allowing all three runner on base to score as Ventura pulled into second. Leyritz was charged with an error, but the White Sox now held a 3-0 lead despite the fact that they were still getting no-hit by Hawkins. Calderon was up next for the Sox, getting himself into a bit of a jam as Hawkins quickly developed a 1-2 count on him. With nothing really to lose, Calderon lifted a ball into deep right field where the sun and the wind played havoc with a slightly careless Barfield waiting under it. Like Leyritz, the ball was being acted upon by the elements, and the same result occurred. Barfield lost the ball in the sun which allowed Ventura to score from second, kicking the score up to 4-0 in favor of the South Siders. Pasqua came to the plate again, working himself into a full count before popping it up to Yankees shortstop Alvaro Espinosa to end the inning.

In the ninth, the Yankees offense didn’t stray too far from their original game plan. That plan being that they weren’t intending on scoring any runs. After getting closed out by Scott Radinsky, the Yankees lost the game by the final score of 0-4 and Hawkins’s no-hitter was still in tact. Well, for a year and two months it was recognized as such. As it would later come to pass, on September 4, 1991 the Committee for Statistical Accuracy, appointed by Major League Baseball commissioner Fay Vincent, changed the definition of a no-hitter to require that a pitcher throw at least nine full innings and a complete game. Since Hawkins (who never gave up a hit during a game against Chicago, despite the Sox winning the game 4-0) played for the visiting team, the Sox never batted in the ninth inning and Hawkins lost the credit for a no-hitter. Pretty stupid, eh? One could argue that this is one of Vincent’s stupider moves during his reign as commissioner; however, this same committee also ruled that Roger Maris is the one and only single season home run record holder, overturning the 1961 decision of former commissioner Ford Frick that Maris and Ruth's home run totals should be listed side-by-side for 154 and 162 game seasons (contrary to popular belief, Frick never mentioned using an asterisk). Sooooooooo… he redeemed himself significantly on that one.

Despite only being commissioner for four years (1989-1992), Vincent’s legacy will forever be tied to directly with the Yankees. Aside from the aforementioned tidbits above, it was Vincent who expelled Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner III just 29 days after Hawkins’s no-hitter after “The Boss” paid Howie Spira, a small-time gambler, $40,000 for "dirt" on his outfielder Dave Winfield after Winfield sued Steinbrenner for failing to pay his foundation the $300,000 guaranteed in his contract. Steinbrenner was eventually reinstated in 1993 (one year after Vincent left office).

Per Fay Vincent's interview on WFAN (NY) on July 14, 2010 (the day after Steinbrenner died), Vincent had wanted to suspend Steinbrenner for only two years. It was Steinbrenner who asked for a lifetime ban as he was tired of baseball and wanted to help run the US Olympic effort. Steinbrenner knew he could not run the Olympic effort if he was suspended, so he asked for a lifetime ban, which he received. Steinbrenner then applied for (and received) reinstatement after two years.

Other highlights in Vincent’s career include the indefinite suspension of World Series champion, and repeated drug offended Steve Howe in 1992, who became the second player to be given a lifetime ban for drug-related issues. The first player was Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins in case you were wondering. Vincent was also the only man who had the balls to slap the MLB owners with a $280 million bill after the orchestration of collusion to prevent any free agents to be signed from 1985-1987, a topic I will get to later in the year as well. All in all, not too shabby of a four-year stretch for a guy who was paralyzed from the waist down after falling from a four story ledge in college.

#19- Going back to my earlier statement about bar room conversation, there is probably one topic that comes up more often than most people would think when it comes to sports banter. That topic; worst #1 draft picks of all-time. This conversation is usually relegated to NBA or NFL conversation, as they’re the only two leagues truly at the forefront of polarizing the draft; however, there are some analysts and critics who carry out this same discussion with MLB picks. If you ever find yourself deep in the midst of this conversation, always remember to bring up Brien Taylor.

Taylor was born in Beaufort, North Carolina, to parents Willie Ray, who worked as a mason, and Bettie, who was a crab picker at the local seafood plant. He was the second of four children, named for the lead character in the movie Brian's Song. Taylor attended East Carteret High School. In his senior season, Taylor threw 88 innings, striking out 213 hitters while walking 28. His fastball often hit 98 and 99 mph. In 2006, MLB super agent Scott Boras claimed that Taylor was the best high school pitcher he had seen in his life.

The Yankees selected Taylor with the first overall selection in the 1991 Major League Baseball Draft, and offered him $300,000 to sign a minor league contract, the typical amount given to the first overall draft choice at that time. However, Boras, acting as an advisor, advised the Taylor family that the previous year's top-rated high school pitcher, Todd Van Poppel, was given more than $1.2 million to sign with the Oakland Athletics, giving up a scholarship to the University of Miami in the process. The Taylors held out for a three-year $1.2 million contract, "Van Poppel money," even though they had less leverage because Brien's poor grades in high school prevented him from getting a major college scholarship offer. They threatened the Yankees that Taylor would not sign and instead attend Louisburg College, a local junior college, as leverage to get the Yankees to agree to their terms. The Yankees were without the official services of owner George Steinbrenner, who was serving his lifetime banishment at the time, but through the media, Steinbrenner said that if the Yankees let Taylor get away, they should be "shot." Taylor signed for $1.55 million the day before his classes were set to begin. Further delay would have meant the deal could not be signed until after the school year ended, which coincided with the following year's draft.

Initially, the Yankees had hoped that like Dwight Gooden, Taylor would be ready for the big leagues at the age of 19. However they found he needed a better move to first base to hold base runners. In 1992 he was 6-8 for the Class-A Advanced Fort Lauderdale Yankees, but with a 2.57 ERA and with 187 strikeouts in 161 innings. The next year as a 21-year-old with the AA Albany-Colonie Yankees, Taylor went 13-7 with a 3.48 ERA and with 150 strikeouts in 163 innings. He also led the Eastern League with 102 walks. Nonetheless, Baseball America named him the game's best prospect and he was expected to pitch for the AAA Columbus Clippers of the International League in 1994, and start for the Yankees in 1995. The Yankees had asked Taylor to report to an instructional league so he could spend the winter of 1993-94 working on fundamentals. However Taylor declined the Yankees' request, claiming he was tired from the pressure of the season. He said he needed the rest and chose to remain near his North Carolina home.

On December 18, 1993 the normally mild-mannered Taylor suffered a dislocated left shoulder and torn labrum while defending his brother Brenden in a fistfight. The New York Times reported that Brenden confronted a man named Ron Wilson, who he had fought with in Harlowe, North Carolina. Brenden suffered head lacerations. Once Brien found out his brother had been hurt, he and a cousin went to Wilson's trailer home to confront him. There, Taylor got into an altercation with Jamie Morris, Wilson's friend, and Taylor fell on his shoulder. According to Wilson, Taylor attempted to throw a “haymaker” at Morris, and missed, which caused the injury.

In the hours following the altercation Boras told reporters the injury was a bruise. However when the Yankees had Taylor visit Dr. Frank Jobe, a well-known orthopedic surgeon, who called the injury one of the worst he'd seen. Jobe repaired a torn capsule and a torn labrum in Taylor's shoulder. Initially Jobe told Taylor that he would throw again with similar velocity and that his shoulder might even be more durable. However, he was never the same pitcher again. When he returned after surgery, he had lost 8 mph off his fastball and was unable to throw a curveball for a strike. He was at AA before the incident but spent the bulk of the remainder of his professional baseball career struggling in A-ball.

Taylor was able to get his fastball back into the low to mid 90's, and he had also filled out, gaining 35 pounds from when he first signed. However, he had control problems. In 1995 he pitched for the Yankees Gulf Coast League team, and walked 54 batters in 40 innings. In 1996 he pitched for the single-A Greensboro Bats, and walked 43 batters in 16 13 innings, going 0-5 with an 18.73 ERA. At Greensboro again in 1997, he walked 52 batters in 27 innings, going 1-4 with a 14.33 ERA. He was released by the Yankees at the end of the 1998 season, and pitched for minor league affiliates of the Seattle Mariners and Cleveland Indians until retiring in 2000. In his final stint with the Indians' Columbus affiliate in 2000, he gave up 5 hits, 9 walks, and 11 runs (8 earned) in 2 23 innings.

After baseball, Taylor moved back to North Carolina and picked up a job with UPS as a package handler and later a beer distributor. His life never mirrored his potential as he bounced around from job to job, fathering five daughters and having brushes with the law. In March 2012, Taylor was charged with cocaine trafficking after undercover narcotics agents purchased a large quantity of cocaine and crack cocaine from him over a period of several months. He was federally indicted on cocaine trafficking charges in June 2012. Taylor plead guilty in August 2012 and was sentenced to 38 months in prison, followed by three years' supervised release. Taylor, inmate #56437-056, is currently serving his sentence at Federal Correctional Institution, Fort Dix. 


So much talent gone to waste as a result of a bad decision to some, but the definition of a protector of his family to others. It’s hard to watch sometimes, but it’s all part of the cycle of fame and fortune. Hopefully more kids trying to reach stardom latch onto and learn from this story.

2 comments:

  1. A timely look at some years of misfortune in yanks history, as they look like they will miss the playoffs this season, and remain front and center in the PED scandal(s).

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